All week I, along with other City fans, have been saying that a draw in the derby would be a great result with the top four race still in City’s hands pre-match, yet many left the Etihad last night feeling robbed of all three points and an elusive league double over the city neighbours Manchester United.
United came to the Etihad with the sole objective of obtaining a draw, and if you’ve been watching football in the last five or ten years, you know that Mourinho is the master of the boring ‘park the bus to get a draw’ tactic. That is exactly what his team got, as City were unable to break down a resilient, organised United defence.
However, for all of City’s territorial advantage and possession, they lacked a cutting edge to find that killer pass through the defence. On any other day, this cutting edge would come from Spaniard David Silva, but he had to watch from the stands after being kicked out of the game at Wembley on Sunday.
It was a game of two halves, with City dominating in the first half, and then absolutely playing United off the pitch in the second. But for a positive first ten minutes, the visitors failed to ever work Bravo, and this is testament to a brilliant performance across the back four, who were aggressive and strong all night.
The best chance of the half came when Aguero found space at the front post to be denied by the width of the upright, as De Bruyne fizzed one of his trademark low crosses across the face of goal. It was all City, but fears were there in the first half over the pace of Rashford, Martial and co on the counter-attack.
After the break, City had more desire and Agüero and Sterling should have registered their names on the score sheet when they fashioned a good bit of space on a number of occasions, yet were both let down by weak shots straight at De Gea.
For all of City’s possession in the final third, there wasn’t much space to operate in, and were forced into long shots on a number of occasions. The space needed was finally found in the talking-point of the game, as Maroune Fellaini did what he does best, and get sent off for a head-butt on Agüero, seconds after fouling him not once, but twice.
Pep responded to said red card by sending on his ace in the pack, Gabriel Jesus, to an outstanding ovation from the City crowd.
Minutes after Jesus’ return, déjà vu occurred as he found space in the box and fired home. The linesman’s flag was raised, but as he did against Tottenham, Jesus proceeded to celebrate like never before. Despite Jesus’ protests, the officials had made the correct call. I don’t know what sort of officiating he got used to in Brazil, but the way he celebrated indicates the officiating isn’t as strict as it is over here.
A few more half-chances came for City, but it wasn’t to be. Despite all the possession and play, Pep’s side failed to create any game-defining chances that the pundits could look back on and say ‘they should’ve buried that’ like us City fans say most weeks.
Overall, a draw is a satisfying result against a team below us in the table. A loss would’ve put pressure on like never before this season for Pep, as he would go into the weekend outside the top four.
There were a number of outstanding performers for City, with Kompany and Otamendi both worthy of a mention as they didn’t allow Rashford a sniff. United fans had set the script that Rashford was going to ‘retire’ a City defender, as he supposedly did with the ancient Demichellis last season, yet Rashford managed less touches than the goalkeepers.
The change of the full-backs was a wise decision by Pep. Zaba and Kolarov may not have the legs of Navas and Clichy, but they do have the aggression needed for matches of such magnitude. De Bruyne was good also, and maybe if Gabriel Jesus was sent on a bit earlier, he may have just had that electrifying movement to get on the end of one of his wicked crosses.
Next for City is Middlesbrough away, who are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table. A win for City would all but relegate Steve Agnew’s side, so maximum concentration is needed going into the last five games against teams that City should beat on paper.